My first major trip that I took was a fifty day exploration of Europe. My wife and I loaded up small backpacks and travelled to ten different countries in that short period of time. This was before the superfluous cellphone, so we had to hunt down internet cafes to keep in touch with people back home, and find directions to our next hotels. It was a fast-paced experience where we spent only a couple of nights in each of the many towns and cities we visited. We stayed in hostels, small hotel rooms, and even once at a grandmother’s spare bedroom. It was a great experience, but by the end of it, we were both exhausted.
This was when we were a lot younger and filled with an excess of energy. We have since gone on a lot of other adventures around the world. Some of them compared to the same pace, especially earlier on in our travels. As we grew older, we realized that this crazy pace was a great way to see a lot of things, but we could not keep it up for too long. We have since decided to take a different approach to our travels. It has been more of staying in one or two places for longer periods of time, and really getting to know what those places have to offer. But when you take a trip to Iceland, this is not the way to see it. We couldn’t just sit in one city and take small day trips if we really want to see all that it has to offer. Instead, we went for the option that more people took when visiting this faraway country, we rent a camper van and went roaming around to see the various sights while sleeping in a different camp ground every night in order to make sure we were able to cover all the ground. It forced us to go back to that go-go-go kind of travel that we left behind in our younger days, and it reminded me of the benefits and disadvantages of traveling this way.
First off, it is important to understand that there is a lot to see in Iceland, and if you stay in Reykjavik you can see a lot of cool stuff, but you will miss out on even more. Yes, many people see Iceland this way, but getting the camper van opens up those far away places that can’t be reached for on day trips, and adds the potential for more adventure. It allowed us to get off of the beaten path, and leave a lot of the tourist crowds behind. We were still able to see all of that cool stuff around Reykjavik, but go beyond that to the farther reaches where sometimes it felt like we were the only people that had seen that sight.
It also set us up for a lot more adventure. They come in various packages out in Iceland. There are the obvious ones where you go to visit one of the various sights and take the short hike to get out there, but there are those other one that only happen to you because you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Some of these adventures were fun for us; whereas, others are ones that we will look back on and laugh about. My favorite one would have had to have been being chased by an over-protective ram that was looking out for his lambs as we wandered close by in a large field of grass. It was never dangerous, but it forced us to take a longer way around so we did not disturb their grazing.
The food also offered other kinds of adventures. Most of the time, we were only able to afford fish and chips or hot dogs if we went out for a meal, but there were other times when we splurged on a good meal. My favorite had to be in the port town of Seydisfjordur where we ate at a fusion sushi restaurant which is often considered the best sushi restaurant on the island. I went thinking it would be like any other sushi restaurant that I had been to with the really fresh fish that they are able to find on the island, but they do things a little bit differently there. I was able to get a couple of great rolls, and there were some Korean dishes available on the menu, but the one item that we could not miss was the Hot Rock Sushi. A long time ago, the chef found some great volcanic rocks that they heated up with a gas torch. They then gave us some raw fish that we cooked on the heated up rock. It was different, but worked really well with the traditional soy sauce and wasabi.
Another dining adventure came outside of the town of Olfus called Ingolfsskali. It is housed in a traditional Viking longhouse and just by entering it, I felt like I was walking into the story of Beowulf. The place does not only offer great food, but it has a place outside where you can participate in axe throwing and archery. We weren’t allowed to take part in this feature the night that we were there because of the high winds at the time, but I am sure that there are enough times that you can see people throwing axes outside.
The food they serve is traditional Icelandic fare with silverware that looks as if it was recovered from the sight. They have many fish dishes as well as beef and lamb. There are definitely two types of crowds that make it to this restaurant. The earlier crowd is more of the family crowd, but things get a little more rowdy as the night progresses giving the longhouse even more atmosphere it deserves.
The influence of the Vikings is found everywhere on the Iceland as well. Some of them are authentic; whereas, some of them were created for movie sets, sometimes used, sometimes not. One was built by a movie studio next to Stokksnes black sand beach for a movie that was never completed. It still stands there and is open to the public to explore. Though I know that it has been built recently, it still feels authentic as it sits next to this otherworldly landscape.
It is that otherworldly landscape that is the real feature of Iceland. There are thermal-pools, waterfalls, cliffs, and beaches made from ground down volcanic rock. Everywhere I went, I felt as if I was a part of some movie set that was designed for another planet or another time. It is easy to see why so many movies and television shows are filmed out here, and the people of Iceland take advantage of it. There are many place where I felt as if I was in another story, instead of traveling around this country in the far north in nothing but a camper van.
The landscape would never take off a chance to remind me that Iceland was created from two continental plates converging together and creating a lot of volcanic activity in the process. All of the lava rock and black sand that is found everywhere forms unique formations when in hits to cold north Atlantic water. It creates these unique formations such as square columns, and lumpy fields of moss covered rocks that look like something out of Middle Earth. It makes the travels from each place just as exciting as arriving because it make you wonder what it is you will really see.
This is includes the waterfalls that are all over the place. Coming from Jordan where water is a precious commodity that should be conserved, it jarred me to see so much water. After the first day in the country where I saw waterfall after waterfall, I thought I would get tired of seeing them all of the time, but this was never the case. Just like the landscape, there are so many different kinds of waterfalls that each one that I visited was its own kind of experience. It made me think that maybe this island should have been named the land of waterfalls instead of this misnomer that it has been given.
Despite all of this amazing scenery and things to do, there is an important thing to understand about seeing Iceland from a camper van; it is not an easy experience. It is the perfect way to get from place to place and not worry about where you will be staying in the evening, but it is a small confined space. It can be hard to move around it, and with the ever changing weather, it is not always to best place to escape from it. This form of travel is for the sturdy, the romantic, and the youth of the world. It is a challenge that changed me for the experience, and one that was not always easy. My advice to anybody that wants to see this country through this kind of experience is to do it while you are young, and it will become one of those trips that you will never forget. It gets a little harder to do the older you get, and at moments, I was not having the fun I would have had in my youth.
Despite this small warning, Iceland in a camper van was a trip that forced me to transcend the simple, comfortable life that I had become accustomed to. I will always look back at this trip with fondness, and I will never forget all of the amazing things that I was lucky enough to see. It was the true adventure that I had not had for a long time, and it reminded me of what holidays could be like. I think on my next trip, I will go back to that slower pace, but every once in awhile, I think it will be important for me to get out there and try something new because these are the kinds of events that change us for the better. I am glad for this adventure, but I am also glad that I am back in a nice, warm home where I do not have to live in such a cramped space. The three weeks in a camper van made me appreciate that simple fact even more.